The above illustration shows Darkover as the planet on the left with its four moons: Liriel, Kyrrdis, Idriel and Mormallor. In the background is a representation of the Cottman red giant star.
|First appearance||The Planet Savers (1958 )|
|Created by||Marion Zimmer Bradley|
Darkover is the focus planet of the Darkover series of science fiction-fantasy novels and short stories by Marion Zimmer Bradley and others published since 1958. According to the novels, Darkover is the only human-habitable of seven planets orbiting a fictional red giant star called Cottman; the word "Darkover" is a registered trademark owned by the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust.
- 1 The Cottman stellar system
- 2 Darkover weather and geography
- 3 Geology
- 4 Native sapient Darkover species
- 5 Humans
- 6 Laran
- 7 Culture
- 8 Plants
- 9 Animals
- 10 References
- 11 Notes
- 12 External links
The Cottman stellar system
Bradley describes Cottman's Star as a red giant, around which seven planets orbit. Cottman IV, known to its inhabitants as Darkover, is the only habitable planet; the three inner planets and two outer planets are not habitable. Cottman V is an ice planet that while not toxic to humans, cannot naturally support a self-sustaining human population.
Like Cottman V, Darkover is a planet stuck in a permanent ice age. Only one small equatorial strip of its single smallish continent is warm enough to support limited agriculture, fishing, and livestock. Similar in size to Earth, Darkover has a lower gravity due to its relative lack of metals; it also has a higher percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere. One Darkover year is roughly equal to fifteen Earth months.
Darkover weather and geography
Darkover's weather is affected by two major forces:
- A huge mountain range called "The Wall Around the World" which reaches a height of 9,000 meters above sea level. This mountain range has the cooling effect of a third pole and has set the angle of Darkover's axis of rotation to be more extreme than that of Earth's which causes an extreme fluctuation between summer and winter temperatures in its equatorial region.
- Unlike the Earth, which has only one natural satellite, Darkover has four moons, each a different color, which affect tidal forces and weather patterns. These are Liriel, Kyrrdis, Idriel, and Mormallor, it is thought that Mormallor may have been a passing asteroid that was captured by Darkover's gravity.
The planet is dominated by polar icecaps and glaciers that cover most of its surface; the sole continent, just a few degrees north of the equator, is linked to the northern icecap on the continental northern and eastern side where glaciers from The Wall Around the World mountain range about the cap. To the south and west of that mountain range is Darkover's nominally temperate continental zone which borders the open water of the planet's ocean.
The temperate portion of the continent is dominated by evergreen forests that grow in the mountain foothills; these trees contain a flammable resin which contributes to frequent forest fires during the warmer months. Further, southwest from the forests are Darkover's highlands, plains, salt marshes and arable river valleys. On the continent's far western side is another mountain range called "The Hellers" and a high elevation cold desert plateau called "The Dry Towns".
Multiple conflicting attempts have been made at producing a map of Darkover. There was a map in The Heritage of Hastur (1975) that Bradley repudiated in a fan newsletter in 1978, saying, "The map in HH was fortunately inaccurate enough to be ignored." In any event, it does not match the Speakman map that illustrates this article. Thorsten Renk's attempt at mapping Darkover based on the descriptions of journeys provided in several of the books (starting with Darkover Landfall and ending with The Heritage of Hastur) produced a third map that does not match the others. Renk is probably correct when he says that Bradley appears to have a mental model when she writes, but not a map in the ordinary sense.
Some cities or locations on the map are associated with the seven Domains: Hastur with the Hasturs; Armida with the Altons; Ardais with the Ardais; Serrais with the Ridenow; and Alderan with the Alderans. In Traitor's Sun, Chapter 3, the Domain of Elhalyn is described as stretching "from the west side of the Lake of Hali to the Sea of Dalereuth"; this is not on the map, nor is the Aillard Domain. Other names on the map are Towers: Hali, where the Tower was destroyed, but its burnt rubble and a small chapel, the Rhu Fead, remain; Arilinn; Dalereuth; and Neskaya. Thendara is the location of the Comyn Castle and its Tower, which was destroyed in Exile's Song, as well as the main Terran spaceport and administrative offices. Another Terran spaceport is at Caer Donn. Nevarsin is a retreat and a center of learning administered by the monks of St. Valentine of the Snows, a monastery founded by Father Valentine following a tragic event in Darkover Landfall. Storn is a castle (located on Storn Heights) and a family that is important in Stormqueen! and The Winds of Darkover. Shainsa is the chief of the Dry Towns and figures significantly in The Shattered Chain; the name Neskaya is derived from "New Skye," the first settlement, near the place where the original colonizing ship crashed.
Darkover is poor in metals. Gold and silver are known but not in any quantity, and the most valuable metal is copper. Wealthy women have "butterfly clasps" for their hair made of copper; poorer women must make do with something fashioned of leather and wood. Iron is more common, but very valuable because it is used for swords and horseshoes. In City of Sorcery, Chapter 1, a man locks up his market stall, and the yet unnamed narrator, a Terran woman in Darkovan clothing, thinks he is prosperous, because "He can afford a Terran metal lock." Since some men carry swords, and most men and many women carry knives, presumably made of iron, this seems to be somewhat contradictory.
In The Bloody Sun. Chapter 9, the matrix workers at Ariliin agree to do a geological survey using their powers, to forestall a survey that otherwise would be done by the Terrans, they are to search for "tin, copper, silver, iron, tungsten" and for "fuels, for sulfur, hydrocarbons, chemicals[.]" The purpose is to prevent Terrans and their "infernal machines" from spreading across Darkover. They succeed in locating mineral deposits and marking them on maps (ironically, maps created using the assistance of Terran surveys), but the effort, at first successful, is abandoned.
The most important mineral on Darkover is the matrix stone or starstone, a jewel that the first colonists discover in Darkover Landfall, it is a deep blue color, and large ones are rare. Its composition is not known by anyone, and in fact it is theorized by some that it is a form of life; this jewel provides a focus and a way to magnify laran.
Native sapient Darkover species
Bradley's fictional world is populated with an intelligent species, the Chieri, already ancient and in decline when the human colonists arrive; as the series developed, she introduced three other sapient native species—the Trailmen, Forge-Folk, and Catmen—as well as two genetically engineered sapient species—the Cralmac and Kyrri. One additional species is also frequently mentioned, the Ya-men, but Bradley leaves ambiguous the question of whether these creatures are sapient or not.
The Catmen are the primary antagonists in The Spell Sword and feature in a number of the short stories. In The Spell Sword, Bradley describes them as carrying short, curved swords, capable of coordinating attacks against the humans, and able to use laran and starstones; the Catmen also featured prominently in several of the short stories, including David Heydt's I'm a Big Cat Now from Towers of Darkover; Linda Frankel and Paula Crunk's Blood Hunt from The Other Side of the Mirror; and Judith Sampson's To Serve Kihar from Domains of Darkover.
The Chieri are a race of six-fingered, tall, telepathic hermaphrodites. Extremely long-lived, with life-spans reaching into the tens of thousands of years, they are described as gray or golden-eyed and with long, silvery-white hair, they will change sexes as the situation warrants for mating purposes. The World Wreckers describes the Chieri as the last, dying remnants of a space-traveling people whose abilities have dwindled with their fertility and ambition.
Chieri and humans are similar biologically and are able to interbreed; these hybrids exhibit some of the Chieri characteristics of coloring and physiology. They also have psychic gifts, and their descendants become the Comyn. In Star of Danger, the Chieri who aids Kennard Alton and Larry Montray, tells them that the Chieri share common ancestors with the Trailmen and the Kyrri, though not with the Terrans. [note 1]
The Cralmac are semi-intelligent beings, artificially bred by humans during the Ages of Chaos, from Trailmen altered with human DNA, they usually feature in the Darkovan novels as the servants of laranzu'in working in the towers, with the explanation that theirs is the only touch humans in the hyper-sensitive state of the matrix worker can bear.
The Cralmac feature prominently in Patricia B. Cirone's Victory's Cost from Towers of Darkover.
The Forge-Folk are not particularly well defined, though they are described as about the same height and build as the Trailmen. Walter Breen's The Darkover Concordance describes them as a cross between humans and non-humans, who speak an ancient variant of the Hellers dialect, they are Darkover's primary miners and metalworkers. The Forge Folk worship the Sharra matrix, and appear to be the only creatures on Darkover capable of handling Sharra without causing catastrophe.
The Forge-Folk feature prominently in the conclusion of The Winds of Darkover, and are mentioned in several of the Sharra stories.
The Kyrri are humanoid bipeds with grey fur, simian faces and glowing green eyes, genetically engineered during the Ages of Chaos. Kyrri generate a bioelectric field and sometimes give painful but non-lethal electric shocks to unfamiliar humans; the Kyrri appear in The Bloody Sun, Star of Danger, and The Sword of Aldones, primarily as servants in the Towers and in the Alton townhouse in Thendara.
The Trailmen are described as social herbivores who dwell in arboreal communities and live in extended family clans. Unattached females form bands of ronin who wander the forests attacking travelers; these Trailmen-human cause the cross-species transmission of a 48-year cyclic illness known as Trailmen's Fever, which is mild in Trailmen and often fatal in humans. The Chieri call the Trailmen a word that means "The Little Brothers Who Are Not Wise."
The Ya-men are a mountain-dwelling bird-like race, of questionable intelligence, who are susceptible to the effects of "ghost winds". Though they are mentioned as a background element in many of the books, the Ya-men are a critical plot element in Two to Conquer, The Winds of Darkover, and Cynthia McQuillin's The Forest from The Keeper's Price.
Comyn is the term used for aristocratic members of Darkover society who are gifted with the psychic abilities commonly called laran. Females are often referred to as Comynara, especially by those of lower castes.
The Comyn are the surviving laran-gifted families of Darkover who are ruling at the time of recontact with the Terran Empire, it is suggested in Darkover Landfall that they are the descendants of human-chieri pairings, who have learned to use native matrix stones to focus their laran powers. The Comyn, however, have their own mythology, recited in the Ballad of Hastur and Cassilda: they are the descendants of Hastur, son of Aldones, Lord of Light, who fell to earth, fell in love with Cassilda, and (perhaps) became mortal. Cassilda bore Hastur seven sons who founded the seven Domains.[note 2]
Each Comyn family controls part of Darkover's landmass, known as a Domain, but strategic inter-marriage and feudal land issues result in fluctuating domain borders. Comyn families are also ascribed a gift — a family-specific laran power, though in reality, not every member of the family has the family gift; the gifts may skip generations. Of particular note is that twins often have differing amounts of the family gifts. One twin usually has more of the gifts than does the other twin.
Walter Breen cites Christopher Gibson for the observation that comyn is derived from the Gaelic word, comhionnan, meaning equal, and appears to refer to the communal origins of Darkover.
The Comyn families are:
Hastur of Hastur
- Gift: living matrix
- Other names associated with this domain: Di Asturien, Syrtis
- Crest: silver tree on a blue background
Hastur of Elhalyn
- Gift: ability to see all possible outcomes from every decision or choice. This gift can be very useful if it can be controlled, it awakens in Regis Hastur in The Planet Savers and he nearly goes mad.
- Crest: crowned silver tree on a blue background
- Gift: ability of forced rapport
- Crest: eagle perched upon a tor
- Other names associated with this domain: Castamir, Lanart, Leynier
- Gift: catalyst telepathy
- Pronunciation: In Thendara House, Jaelle says the name is pronounced are-dayze (pg 96)
- Gift: Never mentioned in any of Bradley's novels and short stories, except that it only manifests in women. In the Clingfire Trilogy, it is mentioned that Aillard males capitalized on their recessive Aillard Gift, making them better Keepers in a working circle of telepaths. According to The Darkover Concordance, the Aillard gift is extinct.
- Other names associated with this domain: Lindir
- Pronunciation: Ale-lard, with a long "A" in the first syllable and the accent on the second.
- Gift: ability to see into the future, sometimes to see multiple future possibilities; weather forecasting and ability to change the weather or control winds.
- Other names associated with this domain: Darriell, Delleray, Hammerfell, MacAran, Rockraven, Scathfell, Storn
- Notable for: Aldaran is not a formal member of the Comyn Council, because they never ratified the Compact, and were the first domain to interact with the Terrans. In the early Ages of Chaos, Aldaran was responsible for The Cataclysm, the destruction of the original Hali tower using a laran weapon that created the heavier-than-air, cloud-filled, Hali Lake.
Ridenow of Serrais
- Gift: empathy and the ability to sense and communicate with non-human intelligences
- Notable for: During the Ages of Chaos, Serrais was overrun by a Dry Town clan, the Ridenow, who intermarried with the Serrais women (probably against their will). This rejuvenated the strain, and allowed the Serrais gift to survive in the Ridenow bloodline.
Commoners are the population of Darkover that are not members of a Comyn clan or family. In general, they are portrayed as less-educated than the Comyn, hard-working, shrewd and honorable; some of them are fairly wealthy, owning lands and raising crops or animals, or having successful businesses, such as tailoring and dressmaking, leatherworking and other crafts, milling and cheesemaking or inn-keeping. They form their own councils and petition the Comyn for changes in policy or for assistance.
In The Bloody Sun, Chapter 9, a group of Darkovans calling themselves the Pan-Darkovan Syndicate, meets with Danvan Hastur and the member of the Arilinn Tower, and states their objections to the decision of the Comyn to limit trade and imports from the Terran Empire, their spokesperson, Valdrin of Carthon, says they want some of the advantages that come with being a part of the Empire. Hastur states that the decision of the Comyn was to preserve the Darkovan way of life and to not become another satellite state of the Empire. Valdrin counters that Terran technology needs to be adopted since Darkover's matrix technology has been declining and Terran technology can replace it, or Darkover might sink into another Age of Chaos.
In the introduction to Free Amazons of Darkover, Bradley wrote that her Renunciates have become “the most attractive and controversial of my creations.” The Guild of Oath-Bound Renunciates, called Free Amazons and com’hi letzii in earlier books, were women who had opted out of Darkover’s traditional gender-based roles, including marriage, obligations to clan, and the expectation of male protection.
The origins of this guild during the Hundred Kingdoms era are described in Two to Conquer as the merger between the Sisterhood of the Sword, a military-mercenary guild, and the Priestesses of Avarra, a cloistered order that offered medical and other care to women, primarily abused women. Towards the end of Two to Conquer, Carlina di Asturien comes to believe that the two guilds need to work together for the benefit of all women on Darkover. Bradley acknowledged a Patricia Matthews fan story as the origin of the Sisterhood of the Sword, and described the Priesthood of Avarra as a counterforce.
Bradley noted that most of the fan fiction she received was inspired by the Renunciates, that she had met individuals who had taken Renunciate-style names or were attempting to live in women's communes inspired by the Renunciate guildhouses.
Renunciates take an oath, and thereafter are known only by their first name and the name of their mother, with the connecting word "n'ha," meaning "daughter of." The woman who administers the oath is called her "oath-mother." Magdalene Lorne takes the name Margali n'ha Ysabet: Margali is a Darkovan version of her Terran name, Magdalene (she is also called Magda), and her mother's name was Elizabeth. Camilla, born Elorie Lindir, takes the name Camilla n'ha Kyria, because her mother was Kyria Aillard. Had she been legitimate or acknowledged, her name might have been Elorie Hastur.
Laran is the distinguishing feature of the people of Darkover. Although it appears mostly in Comyn, others may have it, it appears mostly in people who have red hair. Elorie Ardais, in The Bloody Sun, Chapter 7, says, "Everyone alive has some small degree of laran." Damon Ridenow, in The Spell Sword, Chapter 6, reflects on the odd fact that Andrew Carr, a Terran, has laran, and can telepathically be in touch with Callista when he and Callista's twin sister cannot:
In the telepath caste, it was often the accident of possessing laran, the specific telepath Gift, which determined how close a relationship would come. Caste, family, social position, all these became irrelevant compared to that one compelling fact; one had, or one did not, that inborn power, and in consequence one was stranger or kinfolk. By that criterion alone, the most important one on Darkover, Andrew Carr was one of them, and the fact that he was an Earthman was a small random fact without any real importance.
Elizabeth Mackintosh, a character in the novel Rediscovery, suggests the Darkovan language appears to be derived from old Terran languages, she proposes a genetic basis for the development of laran on Darkover, noting that the original population of the colony derived overwhelmingly from north-west Europe (the Scottish highlands, Ireland and the Basque country) where a belief in supernatural abilities such as the second sight is common (and red hair is common, too).
The use of matrix stones
A matrix jewel or "starstone" provides a focus and a way to magnify laran. In Darkover Landfall, a chieri gives one to his human lover so she can call on him if necessary. A matrix stone can be attuned to one person, who will always carry it with him and cannot lose it because he always knows where it is. If it is forcibly removed from him, he may go into shock and die; as related in The Bloody Sun a small matrix stone can be attuned to a person and used as a lock on a box, and only the person to whom the matrix stone is attuned will be able to open the box.
In general, the larger the stone, the more it can amplify the user's laran. Matrix stones can be used to power aircraft or make a person invisible (The Bloody Sun). Trained matrix mechanics can create a "screen" by placing several jewels within glass in a pattern that they determine on an ad hoc basis, depending on the purpose of the screen; this can magnify telepathic powers even more. A screen cannot be managed by a single matrix user; the geological survey conducted The Bloody Sun is accomplished by making and using such a screen; in Sharra's Exile and Two To Conquer, a screen is used to teleport a person from another star system.
The Overworld is a laran representation of the real world. A person with laran, especially when using a matrix, can travel at great speeds in the Overworld and communicate as if face-to-face with others who are there. In The Spell Sword, Damon Ridenow searches for Callista Leynier, who is missing, in the Overworld, and encounters a part of the Overworld that is blocked off by a powerful laran presence, it seems likely that Callista is within the inaccessible area. In Exile's Song Marguerida Alton destroys the representation of Comyn Tower in the Overworld that Ashara has maintained for hundreds of years to stay alive. Later she learns that she has destroyed the real Comyn Tower, part of Comyn Castle, as well.
In the Overworld, one may see sleepers dreaming or people wandering aimlessly and lost; when Cleindori (Dorilys Aillard) is a child, she joins a matrix circle in the Overworld, and after telling her that she is too young to be doing that, they ask, "How did you get here?" She replies that she has always been able to get here, and that she used to visit her baby sister here before she was born. It is also suggested in a couple of stories that the Overworld is where people go after death.
In The Forbidden Tower, Damon Ridenow explores "levels" of the Overworld, going back in time to try to discover lost secrets, he calls this "Timesearch." He encounters Varzil the Good from the distant past, who greets him as a kinsman (they are both Ridenow) and warns him that what he is attempting is dangerous.
In the Ages of Chaos and the Hundred Kingdoms, matrix workers devised powerful weapons of war. Matrix workers were needed to defend against these weapons.
Clingfire is a liquid made by matrix workers that when set afire, keeps burning as long as there is some substance to burn. Clingfire will even burn stone. Evidently it is slowly exhausted or used up as it burns, because it does not simply burn all the way to the center of the planet. Arrows may be dipped in clingfire, ignited and shot, or containers of burning clingfire may be dropped from "aircars" (matrix-powered aerial vehicles). A huge clingfire attack destroyed the Hali Tower, which led to the adoption of the Compact, which forbids the use of matrix weapons (Two To Conquer).
Bonewater dust is a substance, possibly radioactive, that is used to render a place uninhabitable for years, it is used against places that are especially hated or to deliver a dose of slow poison to an entire army.
The Spell Sword
In the novel The Spell Sword Damon Ridenow sets a small matrix stone into the hilt of a sword, he realizes that by doing so he may, in theory, be violating The Compact, and that such matrix weapons are banned. He discovers that although he is no use in actual battle, being a poor swordsman, he can use the sword as a weapon in the Overworld, and thereby assist the soldiers "on the ground." Other swords, with larger matrices, are important weapons that figure in the novels.
The Sword of Aldones
In Sharra's Exile the Sword of Aldones is called the weapon against Sharra, it is kept in the rhu fead, a small chapel near the site of the destroyed Tower of Hali, and near the place where the Comyn have funerals and interment of their own kind. The rhu fead is protected by a barrier and cannot be passed except by Comyn, but the sword itself is behind a barrier that no Comyn can pass through. In Sharra's Exile Lew Alton, with the help of Ashara and a few others, solves this puzzle. Lew is severely wounded by an attack after the sword is recovered, and is about to die when Regis Hastur, more or less by chance, arrives and instantly claims the sword and heals Lew, to the astonishment of the attending doctors. Lew then asks Regis who he is, and Regis says, "Hastur." Hastur, in legend and myth, was the son of Aldones.
The Sword of Hastur
This sword is said to be kept in Hastur Castle, it will slay anyone who draws it except in defense of the Hastur Domain.
Sharra is a ancient matrix weapon. In the Winds of Darkover it is simply a large matrix stone, about the size of a child's hand. In The Heritage of Hastur it has been set into the hilt of a sword. Sharra is also called the "Form of Fire." She is worshiped by the Forge-Folk.
Bradley provides multiple explanations for Sharra. In The Sword of Aldones, Sharra is described as a powerful matrix in which an Alton leronis had become trapped eons ago. However, in the rewrite of that book, Sharra's Exile, Bradley describes Sharra as a portal to another dimension, though which a powerful alien energy is able to gain a foothold on Darkover. Breen describes Sharra as an anthropomorphized matrix weapon, left over from the Ages of Chaos. Desideria Leynier, in The Winds of Darkover uses the Sharra matrix against a group of bandits. In The Heritage of Hastur, Marjorie Scott and Lew Alton, drugged and under the influence of Kadarin and Beltran Alderan, raise the form of fire and destroy Caer Donn; the Terrans then finally realize the meaning of the Compact, and its necessity.
In The Winds of Darkover, Dan Barron, a Terran, has visions of Storn Heights, brought to him by a laran rapport with Brynat Storn. In Chapter 1, he sees Sharra:
In the midst of the flame there was a woman.... She was almost inhumanly tall and slender, but girlish; she stood bathed in the flame as if standing carelessly under a waterfall...She looked merry and smiling.... And then the girlish, merry face wavered and became supernally beautiful with the beauty of a great goddess burning endlessly in the fire, a kneeling woman bound in golden chains....
[T]he figure changed, grew, and was, again, the great chained Being, regal, burning, searing her beauty into his heart and brain.
The ancient Keeper of Comyn Tower, Ashara, explains some of the matters concerning Sharra to Lew Alton, who is, one might say, "possessed" by the Form of Fire after the events in The Heritage of Hastur. Ashara hints that Sharra is actually an extra-dimensional being and the Sharra matrix is used to summon her, she also hints at the reason the matrix was set into a sword:
"What do you think would happen to a person who was killed with such a sword?"[note 3]
Darkovan culture in the Domains is essentially feudal: the Comyn are the nobility and there is a king of Elhalyn lineage; the actual rule of the Domains is entrusted to the Hasturs, since the Elhalyns are considered "unstable." The seven Domains have lesser family names associated with them, as noted above. All other persons are "commoners" and even if they have laran they probably have no chance of social advancement, although they may obtain tower training and earn respect.
There are two important languages on Darkover, Cahuenga, spoken generally by everyone, and Casta, usually only spoken by the nobility. There are mountain, lowland and regional accents and dialects. Sometimes Bradley attempts to reproduce a dialect with English contractions and spelling. For instance, in Hawkmistress!, Part 3, Chapter 5, Romilly, the protagonist, realizes "with horror" that her mountain accent has crept into her speech when she says, "...I'm nae servant to the lady; if ye' want her fetched and carried for, me lord, ye' can even do it yerself."
In the Dry-towns there is another language, or perhaps a dialect of Cahuenga that is incomprehensible to those who live in the Domains, it is not important in most of the books.
Although Darkover is a richly realized and detailed world, the two languages are rarely distinguished in the books, they derive, ultimately, from the two languages spoken by the colonists, as described in Darkover Landfall: Celtic, spoken by the communal colonists, becomes Cahuenga, and Spanish, spoken by the officers and crew of the crashed ship, becomes Casta. The two tongues blend and borrow words from each other. Bradley was not as talented a linguist as Tolkien was, with the ability to invent entire languages and explain their imaginary origins (and indeed, who was?), but the basic vocabulary is quite consistent throughout the books.
Forms of Address
"I was dissatisfied, in retrospect, with some of the forms of address I had invented for the lords and ladies of the Domains when I was young (I started writing the books when I was very young) and, not wishing to be bound by a juvenile concept, I simply allowed the forms of address to evolve in each book until now I have something that makes sense to me."
- Dom (m.), Domna (f.). An honorific used before a person's first name, used between Comyn. Roughly equivalent to "Lord" or "Lady".
- Vai dom (m.), vai domna (f.), vai dom'yn (pl.). Used by a commoner when addressing a Comyn, and a formal way for Comyn to address each other, it means, approximately, "worthy lord" or "worthy lady."
- Maester (m.), mestra or maestra (f.), Mestra'in (f. pl.). General form of address between commoners or by Comyn to commoner.
- Dame or Mother. A respectful form of address used to a woman of an older generation. (Hawkmistress!, Book 2, Chapter 1). However, in The Bloody Sun, Chapter 7, Jeff Kerwin arrives at Arilinn Tower and meets Mesyr Aillard, a older woman who tells him, "I am your very remote cousin." He thinks he is being respectful by calling her "Mother." The text says, "He used the Darkovan word that meant, not precisely mother, nor yet foster-mother, but a general term for a female relative of a mother's generation." This is offensive under the circumstances, because matrix workers all use first names among themselves as they are in frequent mutual telepathic contact which is an intimate relationship. An amusing exchange ensues. (Jeff Kerwin is expected to be a Terran "barbarian", anyway.)
- Bredu (m.), breda (f.), bredin (pl.). Brother or sister, but extendable to "kinsman" or "kinswoman" if the relationship is close; also used between lovers in the sense of "darling" (The Spell Sword, Chapter 4). Also "bredhiya," intimately from one woman to another (City of Sorcery, Chapter 4). In addition, used between sworn brothers or sisters unrelated by blood, who refer to themselves as bredin (see Knife-exchange ritual).
- Damisela. Used to address an unmarried young woman.
- Chiyu (m.), chiya (f.) An affectionate way to address a child. Also used as a term of affection for any younger relation who is past childhood but not yet an adult.
- Messire. A respectful way to address a man of lesser rank (Comyn to commoner). (Hawkmistress!, Part 1, Chapter 5)
Other common words and phrases
- Comyn (m.), Comynara (f.), Comyn or Comynaris (m. or coll. pl.), Comynara or Comynaris (f. pl.). A member or members of the Darkovan nobility, or the nobility itself.
- Comhi' letzii. The Renunciates.
- Laran (Cahuenga), Donas (archaic, Casta?). Telepathic (and other) powers, generally inherited by Comyn. "Donas" is literally "gift" or "talent," and usually refers to one of the Domain gifts.
- Leronis (f.), Laranzu (m.), Leroni (pl.), Laranzu'in (sometimes m. pl.). One who is trained, usually in a Tower, in the use of laran and using a matrix. Among those who do not think of matrix work as a science, these words can mean "witch", "wizard", "sorceress", "sorcerer", etc. and have superstitious connotations. "Vai leroni": Honored matrix-workers, or honored sorcerers.
- Teneresis or teneresteis (f.), Tenerezu (m.). A Keeper, one who takes the center of a circle of matrix workers and directs the power.
- Nedestro. (n. or adj.) A son or daughter of Comyn born outside of marriage but acknowledged by his father or mother.
- Menhiedris (n.). Lesbian.
- Embredin (n.) also, ombredin. An effeminate or homosexual man. An insult.
- Chaireth (n.). A stranger or foreigner (mildly perjorative). Literally, "sandal-wearer." Men do not wear sandals, but women do; this carries the implication that the stranger is an embredin. This is charrat in the dialect of Carthon (The Winds of Darkover, Chapter 9).
- Emmasca. A woman who has had the illegal neutering operation.
- Firi. A distilled liquor.
- S'dia shaya. You lend us grace. (A formal greeting in Casta, used between Comyn, from host to guest.)
- Para servirte (Cahuenga?), Z'par servu or su serva (Casta?). At your service.
- A ves ordres. As you wish, or, as you command.
- Shallan. A sweet fruit drink, served at festivals.
- Gre'zu, pl. Gre'zuin, also, Bre'su, pl. Bre'suin. An obscene epithet with a meaning that is unclear.
- Reish. Literally, "stable-sweepings." An obscenity more or less equivalent to English "bullshit." A "childish vulgarity" (City of Sorcery, Chapter 2)
- Durraman's donkey. A metaphor for stubbornness or stupidity.
- Adeleandeyo. Farewell. (Literally, "Go with the gods." Cf. Spanish "adios" or "vaya con dios".)
Laws and Traditions
The Compact forbids any weapon that does not bring its user within reach of the person it is used against, its intention is to forbid laran weapons, which caused much destruction and loos of life in the Ages of Chaos. The Compact is perhaps the most distinctive and important part of Darkovan society, it was conceived by Varzil the Good and adopted by all the Comyn, except the Aldarans. It ended the Ages of Chaos and the Hundred Kingdoms and brought peace; because the Alderan Domain never adopted it, they were excluded from the Comyn Council. The Compact also forbids guns, "blasters" and other Terran weapons, which is a plot point in several books. Swords and knives are the weapons allowed by the Compact. Even bows and arrows are prohibited.
The Towers are the centers of the use of laran; those who have a talent for telepathic powers go to a tower to be trained.
In The Spell Sword, Chapter 7, Damon Ridenow realizes that to supervise two untrained telepaths, Andrew Carr and Ellamir Lanart-Alton, he must function as a Keeper. For many years, perhaps not since Varzil the Good, men have not been Keepers. Damon's realization leads to the formation of The Forbidden Tower and eventually, civil war among the Comyn.
Knife exchange ritual
In The Winds of Darkover, Chapter 3, Lerrys, the foster-son of Valdir, Lord Alton, realizes that Dan Barron has some sort of telepathic ability and that he will have "troubles" on their journey into the mountains, since he has visions of Sharra. Dan has no knife, and Lerrys explains:
"By custom and law here -- a knife or any other weapon must never be lent or given, except between sworn friends or kinfolk. To say 'my knife is yours' is a pledge, it means you will defend the other..."
Lerrys then gives Dan a knife, and says, "It is yours," instructing Dan to take it and say, "Yours and mine."
Between Darkovan men, each of whom has a knife, the ritual words are said by both of them in turn as they trade knives. Several times in the books, men exchange knives and from that day forward are bredin, notably Regis Hastur and Danilo Syrtis in The Heritage of Hastur and Jeff Kerwin and Rannirl in The Bloody Sun. Renunciates also follow this custom.
In The Spell Sword, Andrew Carr arrives at Armida in clothes that are simply no good any more, as Damon Ridenow says. Carr has survived a plane crash and a blizzard with the help of Callista Leynier. Damon obtains the loan of "the hall-steward's holiday suit" for Andrew, which is:
"...a shirt and knee-length under-drawers of coarse linen; over which went suedelike breeches, flared somewhat from knee to ankle; a long-sleeved finely embroidered shirt with wide sleeves gathered in at the wrist; and a leather jerkin. There were knitted stockings that tied at the knee, and over them low felt boots lined with fur.
That outfit is indoor wear. Outdoor wear is described in The Winds of Darkover, when Dan Barron travels on horseback with three Darkovan men:
All three wore loose heavy breeches, falling in flaps over high, carefully-fitted boots, and laced tunic-like shirts in rich, dark colors. Gwynn and Colryn had thick, fur-lined riding-cloaks, and Lerrys a short loose fur jacket with a hood. All three wore short gauntlets, knives in their belts and smaller knives in pockets at the top of their boots; Gwynn had a sword as well, although for riding it was swung across the crupper of his horse, they all had hair cut smoothly below their ears and a variety of amulets and jewelry.
Men generally carry a sword if they can afford one, which is a weapon that complies with the Compact. In addition to a sword, men usually carry a knife or two, as described above.
In The Shattered Chain, Chapter 6, there is a detailed description of the dress of women. Writing of Magdalene Lorne, Bradley says:
She wore the ordinary dress of a woman of Thendara: a long, full skirt of heavy cloth, woven in a tartan pattern, a high-necked and long-sleeved tunic, embroidered at the neck, and ankle-high sandals of thin leather, her hair was long and dark, coiled low on her neck and fastened with the butterfly-shaped clasp that every woman wore in the Domains. Magda's was made of silver, a noblewoman would have worn copper, a poor woman's clasp would have been carved of wood or even leather; but no chaste woman exposed her bare neck in public.
After hanging the clothes up, Magda rubs "their folds with an aromatic mix of spices; it was as important to smell right as to look right..." Magda wears a riding-cloak when she undertakes a journey into the Hellers.
Renunciates who provide bodyguard services or lead expeditions generally wear a long knife, which by law and custom (established by Varzil the Good, who gave the Renunciates their charter) is not as long as a sword. Renunciates who are midwives or prepare food, etc. generally do not carry a weapon. Camilla n'ha Kyria is an exception. Before she became a Renunciate she posed as a man and lived as a mercenary, and she still wears a sword.
Comyn women carry a small dagger for personal protection, or perhaps to use on themselves if they are captured and in danger of rape or some other humiliation. (The Shattered Chain, Chapter 2).
Relations between the sexes
The Shattered Chain has much information about cultural sexual mores, traditions and prohibitions on Darkover. Also, repeatedly throughout the series, women's thoughts (seldom expressed aloud) are concerned with being "brood mares" or that "I was of no value; the daughters I bore him at risk of my life were of no value; I was nothing but an instrument to give him sons." (Kindra, speaking in The Shattered Chain, Chapter 2). In Darkover Landfall, it is made clear to the colonists by the ship's officers that for the colony to survive, the women must bear as many children as possible, with as many male partners as possible for genetic diversity; this led to women having an inferior position to men.
In Comyn society, the most formal marriage is di catenas (evidently derived from Spanish "de cadenas", meaning "of chains"). In the ceremony, the married couple submit to locked wrist bracelets that are connected with a chain. Later the chain is removed but the symbolic wrist bracelets traditionally remain. In the Dry Towns, a woman remains chained all her life, but to herself; the "bracelets were connected with a long chain, passed through a metal loop on her belt, so that if the woman moved either hand, the other was drawn up tight against the loop on her waist." (The Shattered Chain, Chapter 1).
A less formal marriage is called "a marriage of freemates." This is the typical form of marriage for lower classes, although the Comyn enter into freemate marriages as well. There may or may not be a ceremony of some kind, such as a feast. Renunciates are forbidden by their oath to enter into any other kind of marriage; this sort of marriage can be ended by mutual agreement, although it is not uncommon for it to last for the lives of the partners. In the Hellers, a freemate marriage may be established by mutual agreement and the sharing of "a bed, a meal, and a fireside." Lew Alton and Marjorie Scott observe this tradition in The Heritage of Hastur.
The culture of the Comyn tolerates homosexuality between men to some extent. Among commoners, male homosexuals are called "sandal-wearers" (chaireth) to mock them and equate them with women. Female homosexuality is sometimes believed, even by Comyn, to be a characteristic of the Renunciates. In The Shattered Chain, Chapter 5, Lady Jerana Hastur says:
"...I have always heard that the Free Amazons are eager to find pretty young girls whom they can convert to their unnatural way of life, turning them against marriage and motherhood, making them haters of men and lovers of women."
This may be an example of Bradley's ironic social commentary. Everyone except Jerana Hastur is offended by this speech.
Religious traditions of Darkover
On the whole, the inhabitants of Darkover are not particularly religious and do not celebrate any obvious religious rituals. However, all the castles of the Domains, and Conyn Castle as well, have a "chapel" that contains places to be seated and murals (or statues?) of the gods and goddesses. Murals depicting scenes from "The Ballad of Hastur and Cassilda" are present. Formal marriages (di catenas) are conducted in the chapel, or a person may retreat to it for solitude and meditation.
Darkovans believe in four deities: Avarra (goddess of birth and death), Evanda (goddess of life and warmth, and hence marriage), Aldones (lord of light), and Zandru (lord of the nine hells); each hell is colder than the one above it, because Darkovans, living on a freezing planet, conceive of a cold hell. Hastur, the mythological progenitor of the Comyn, is supposedly the son of Aldones; these entities are believed to have power in the world, but no particular interest in individual persons. However, at least one of these entities canonically exists: in The Shadow Matrix, Evanda is physically present, tends the fire and prepares food at the marriage of Mikhail and Marguerida. In Sharra's Exile, when Regis Hastur is fighting Sharra using the Sword of Aldones, a "damnable" face appears in the sky, presumably Aldones himself.
The Forge-Folk worship the "form of fire", known as Sharra, who appears as a fiery, chained, red-haired female figure, a manifestation of the Sharra matrix, or perhaps a being from another dimension. Bradley offers multiple conflicting explanations for Darkover's native deities, perhaps deliberately leaving the answers open to interpretation.
Some Darkovans also follow a Terran-originated belief system; these are the Cristoforos, whose beliefs derive from the work of a Catholic monk, Father Valentine, who accompanied the original expedition. Cristoforo is a corruption of St. Christopher of Centaurus, and the central figure of the belief system is the Bearer of Burdens.
These two belief systems operate side by side. A Darkovan may believe in one or the other, or frequently both, without difficulty.
"An untrained telepath (or "untrained person with laran") is a danger to himself and everyone around him."
"Nothing in this world is certain but death and next winter's snow." (The Shattered Chain, Chapter 2)
"Only two things in this world are sure, birth and next winter's snow." (The Shattered Chain, Chapter 4) "Next winter's snow" is sure, but the first item apparently can be any current topic, crisis or emergency.
"The world will go as it will, not as you or I will have it." (Repeated many times.)
"We will fly that hawk when her pinions are grown." (repeated many times) (The time is not yet ripe for that: "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.")
"On a steep road, let your horse set the pace." (The Shattered Chain, Chapter 8) Also: "On an uphill road give your horse his head." (The Winds of Darkover, Chapter 7)
"If ill luck were cheese, dairy-women would go wanting work." (The Shattered Chain, Chapter 9) (Everyone has bad luck.)
"What is done under four moons need never be remembered or regretted." ("A Sword of Chaos" in the anthology Sword of Chaos, and elsewhere.)
"It is wrong to keep a dragon to roast your meat."
Kireseth is a plant that produces yellow bell-like flowers when very warm weather lasts for more than a day or two; this weather event is rare on Darkover. The kireseth flowers release large amounts of hallucinatory pollen, creating what is called a "ghost wind." Humans and animals that inhale the pollen exhibit strange behavior, sexual activity, and violence.
The original colonists had no knowledge of this plant or its effects; the first known ghost wind resulted in a human woman becoming impregnated by a chieri, an orgy, and a massacre. Later, the Darkovans learned to distill substances from parts of the kireseth plant to either enhance telepathic ability or inhibit it.
Kireseth is important in the mythology of Darkover; the Blessed Cassilda is depicted in paintings as holding a bouquet of flowering kireseth. In The Forbidden Tower, Damon Ridenow and his circle fit together the mythological pieces and prove to themselves that a female Keeper need not be a virgin, or even chaste, to act as the center of a telepathic circle, if she uses kireseth, they are seen as rebels, and have to fight a telepathic battle to keep their circle and the "forbidden" tower they have created in the overworld. Their use of kireseth is viewed as blasphemy by many (ironically, since this use is portrayed in religious art) and when Damon's daughter, Cleindori (Dorilys Aillard) attempts to use this knowledge as the Keeper of Arilinn, a legitimate tower, she and her followers are hunted and killed. Cleindori means "Golden Bell" and is a nickname connoting her blonde hair with the appearance of the kireseth flower.
The resin tree is found on the slopes of all the mountains surrounding the inhabited parts of Darkover and down into the lowlands, it is apparently a kind of evergreen conifer that forms thick forests. Dry weather and summer storms with lightning create a great danger of these forests catching on fire, which the Darkovans combat in various ways. Small fires are fought by fire crews; no one is exempt from fire duty. Large fires may need to be put out by telepathic weather-workers who create a rainstorm.
A "spiky" weed that grows in the desert near the Dry-towns, where nothing else grows.
A tree with a six-petaled flower (Traitor's Sun, chapter 18). Used as a nickname for the six-membered cells of the Sons of Darkover, a somewhat subversive organization; the name sounds like Rowan but the flower is different.
This plant produces "pods" that after they are soaked in water can be unraveled to produce a useful fiber. There maybe several kinds of plants that do this to protect their seeds from the elements; as some colonists discovered in Darkover Landfall, the chieri spin these fibers and create cloth from them using a loom. Andrea Closson, in The World Wreckers, upon finding an partly unraveled pod, starts to make thread out of it, out of habit.
The Trailmen build their cities from this fiber by stringing it between the trees like a suspension bridge and weaving a floor.
Herbs and Vegetables
It is clear from Darkover Landfall that some food plants were brought to Darkover by the colonists. Whether the ones mentioned in the chronologically later books are the same is not clear. Of course, the original stock may have been subject to selection to adapt to a redder sun and colder temperatures. Also, it appears from several of the books that the castles and great houses of the Comyn had greenhouses for the growing of vegetables such as "melons" which one would not expect to grow in cold temperatures, although apparently they do.
Snap-beans are mentioned in Traitor's Sun, chapter 17, when Domenic volunteers to help in the kitchen of an inn, and he is showed how to "string" them, he is told the cook "fries them with bacon" implying that there are pigs on Darkover.
Sleepweed: supposedly able to put a person into a sleep for ten days, although this may be an exaggeration (Traitor's Sun, chapter 16).
Spicebush: A "fluffy" plant that grows in the Dry Lands desert (The Shattered Chain, Chapter 3).
Goldenflower: Used to make a tea that eases menstrual cramps (City of Sorcery, Chapter 12).
Blackthorn: used to make a bitter tea that is used to treat altitude sickness (City of Sorcery, Chapter 19).
Raising mushrooms is common in the hills and mountains. A kind of mushroom grows naturally on dead trees; harvesting requires only a knife and a sack.
Ii is unclear whether domestic animals are descended from stock brought by the colonists or whether they are domesticated native species. In the alternative, the Darkovans could have obtained them from the Terran Empire after rediscovery. Chickens, cattle and sheep are all mentioned, and pigs can be inferred from bacon.
The presence of Terran-sounding animals such as butterflies and snakes (The Shattered Chain, Chapter 3) is unexplained, it is not clear if they are Darkovan analogs of Terran species.
The history of horses on Darkover is ambiguous. In Hawkmistress! (during the Ages of Chaos) there is a battle in which the opposing sides charge at each other on horseback. However, in books that are historically later, it is said that horses were unknown until Terrans brought them; the Altons became known for raising them, especially after the Terran Andrew (Andra'a) Carr married into the family (see The Spell Sword and The Forbidden Tower). By the time of Exile's Song horses are common, and there are also mules.
Apparently Darkover has native species of butterflies, they are mentioned both in descriptions of nature and in references to the "butterfly clasp" used by women to hold hair in a way that covers the back of the neck. For a woman to expose the back of her neck is considered indecent.
Hawks and Vultures
Hawks can be domesticated using ancient hawking techniques, which can be enhanced by laran. In several of the books, e. g. The Bloody Sun a hawking outing is described, and it appears to be a form of recreation common among the Comyn; the hawk "Preciosa" domesticated by Romilly MacAran in Hawkmistress! is called a verrin hawk. Smaller hawks are described as being more suitable for ladies, and a Comyn lord says that it is "disgraceful" that Romilly is allowed to fly a verrin hawk. (Hawkmistress!, Part 1, Chapter 5). It is not clear how many kinds of hawks there are.
The kyorebni is a kind of vulture; the presence of water holes in the Drylands can be inferred by kyorebni circling over them (The Shattered Chain, Chapter 4). A larger species of vulture is called a "sentry-bird," and can be used for aerial surveillance in wartime (Hawkmistress!, Parts 2 and 3). The kyorebni is called a "Lammergeier" in Terran Standard (City of Sorcery, Chapter 11).
The chervine is an animal native to Darkover, it is apparently similar to a deer in its general appearance and has horns; however it has been domesticated and is used for riding and as a pack animal. It is also used for food.
The rabbithorn is native to Darkover, they are considered to be very good eating, even a delicacy. In Traitor's Sun it is mentioned that the inn, The Crowing Cock, keeps them in cages. In Darkover Landfall the colonists discuss raising them domestically for their fur. Rabbithorn (the plural and singular are the same) may be stuffed and roasted, placed on a platter and served with mushrooms, other vegetables and a savory or sweet sauce, they are also made into a stew.
The ice-rabbit lives in the mountains and is an important prey of banshees; the ice-rabbit population increases and decreases according to the availability of food. When there are plenty of ice-rabbits, the banshees stay above the snow-line; but when the ice-rabbit population crashes, the banshees start to hunt lower down and are a greater danger to travelers (City of Sorcery, Chapter 19).
The scorpion ant is an insect-like organism with pincers and a potentially deadly sting that lives in colonies. In Darkover Landfall a member of an expedition stepped on a nest and aroused the inhabitants, leading to his painful and sudden death.
The banshee is a large, flightless, blind, bird-like predator that lives in the mountains, commonly above the line of permanent snow, it catches prey by screaming to paralyze it and then disemboweling it with a stroke of one of its clawed feet or by a bite of its huge beak. It is mentioned in nearly all the novels, and a few characters hear its scream.
There are several speculations about the banshee's paralyzing scream in various books; the scream may be so terrifying that its prey is afraid to move. Alternatively, it has been suggested that banshees have a laran that can take over the mind of another and leave him vulnerable.
The dragon is a extinct, perhaps mythical creature on Darkover. Marion Zimmer Bradley, in the introduction to "Coils" by Patricia Shaw Mathews in the anthology Red Sun of Darkover, says that she has "always thought of Darkover as a place of which one might say, 'Here there be dragons.'" There are two canonical references to the dragon: The ballad of the death of the last dragon as described in Two To Conquer, and the proverb, "It is wrong (or "ill done") to keep a dragon chained to roast your meat." Various characters speculate on the meaning of this saying:
- It would be dangerous to make a dragon work for you.
- Something powerful and dangerous should not be used for a trivial purpose.
- It would be right to keep a dragon chained to render him harmless, but a dragon has no use.
- Dragons cannot be chained, at least not for very long.
- Dragons do not exist, and the saying is humorous.
- Darkover - Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Trust
- Unger, RK (2009). "Science Fictive Visions: A Feminist Psychologist's View". Feminism & Psychology. 19: 113–117. doi:10.1177/0959353508098623.
- Rediscovery, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mercedes Lackey, DAW Books, 1993, hardback
- Darkover, https://fanlore.org/wiki/Darkover, section "Mapping Darkover"
- Renk, Thorsten, Mapping Darkover, http://www.phy.duke.edu/~trenk/darkover/darkover_map.html#mental_map
- The Planet Savers, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ace Books, 1962, paperback
- The World Wreckers, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ace Books, 1971, paperback
- Star of Danger, Marion Zimmer Bradley, pgs 201-209, Ace Books, 1965, paperback
- Victory's Cost, Patricia B. Cirone, Towers of Darkover, pgs 103-106, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, 1993, paperback
- Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance pg 49, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
- Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance, pg 74, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
- Vai Dom, Diana L. Paxson, The Keeper's Price, DAW Books, 1980, paperback
- Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance, pg 139, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
- Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance", pg 1, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
- A Flame at Hali, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross, DAW Books, paperback
- Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stormqueen!, pg 167, DAW Books, 1978, paperback
- The Oath of the Free Amazons, pgs 16-22, Walter Breen, Free Amazons of Darkover, DAW Books, 1985, paperback
- Introduction: About Amazons, pgs 7-14, Free Amazons of Darkover, Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, 1985, paperback
- Introduction: About Amazons, pgs 7-14, Free Amazons of Darkover, Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, 1985, paperback
- Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance, pg 116-118, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
- Marion Zimmer Bradley, "A Darkover Retrospective", 1974, 1980 and May 2018, edited by A. E. Silverpine. Online at http://www.mzbworks.com/Darkover-Retrospective.htm
- The Fall of Neskaya, Marion Zimmer Bradley, pg 55, DAW Books, 2001, paperback
- Which begs the question: How are chieri and humans able to mate and produce viable offspring? Bradley neither poses it nor answers it.
- In-world, this can be viewed as a derivation from the Christianity of the colonists, with the usual Darkovan emphasis on having male children, as noted below.
- This is reminiscent of Elric's soul-stealing sword, Stormbringer, but what Ashara means is not made clear, except that Lew does not like to think about it.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Darkover.|
- Mapping Darkover - an essay about Darkover's geography
- https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/Darkover This is an[unreliable source?] but this article itself is about fiction. Some of the "tropes" may interest a reader.